Jenna Coleman might be the luckiest girl in the “Doctor Who” universe. She joined the show as the Doctor’s mysterious companion, Clara, in its 50th Anniversary season and found herself working with Matt Smith on his final episodes. Soon, she’ll help usher in a brand new Twelfth Doctor (to be announced in a live international TV special airing this weekend).
In less than a year’s time, she’s acted alongside famous guest stars including Diana Rigg, John Hurt, Warwick Davis, Richard E. Grant and David Warner and just recently made her first trek to Comic-Con (where her boyfriend, actor Richard Madden, also turned up to promote HBO’s “Game of Thrones”).
We sat down with Coleman for a one on one chat during the recent TCA summer press tour to discuss “Who”-mania, the upcoming 50th Anniversary and Christmas specials, what it was like working with iconic stars from “Who” past, and (because we couldn’t resist) what she thought of the “Game of Thrones” Red Wedding.
We even had a special guest interrupt the conversation…
Let’s talk a little bit about the 50th. I know you can’t say too much, but what was the vibe like on set, since it was the 50th Anniversary special. Did it feel like a regular episode?
Jenna Coleman: No, it didn’t. It was different in so many ways. Because it’s 3D, the way of shooting is totally different. The cameras are a lot bigger. It takes a lot more time with set ups, and actually filming the show. Also, just having so many people on set. It’s such an ensemble cast, with the three Doctors, with Billie Piper, myself, lots of different characters.
It was a really nice feeling because every day felt like a celebration. There was just a buzz. You knew you were part of something special, and part of the history of the show. There was that kind of atmosphere around. I have to think it will be lovely to look back in a few years and be like, ‘Cool, I was part of that whole thing!’
Yeah, from the read-through actually. You read it in the script, and you’re like, ‘This is brilliant. This is brilliant.’ It was so snappy. And just the kind of the humor that David’s doctor has, and then Matt — they’re very different doctors, very different but also there’s definitely a meeting of minds in humor. Then there’s also the antagonistic stuff as well going on. And John Hurt is completely his own [Doctor]. It’s just a great dynamic of the three of them being the one person.
Had you met Billie Piper before or was this the first time?
This was the first time I had met her. I heard a lot about her. Matt’s really good friends with Billie, so I felt like I met her before.
Did you compare companion notes at all?
It’s funny, the stuff you talk about is more like the logistics of like, ‘Oh yeah, I used to eat at this place.’ ‘Well, actually did you know about this place?’ ‘Oh, I stayed in this place.’ We shared notes on that kind of thing, and then we just really got on. She’s great to have around. She’s got such a good energy on set as well. We all had special chairs made for us for the 50th. In between takes and stuff like that, we’d sit around and it was just like a big family.
It sounds exciting.
It was, and we’d all get Nando’s at lunch. Do you have that here?
I haven’t heard of it.
It’s like a spicy chicken take-away. We’d all bond over Nando’s. It was everybody’s birthday as well, which was weird. It was my birthday, David’s birthday, Joe, our lead cameraman’s, birthday. I’d never been on a shoot with so much cake!
Did John Hurt eat Nando’s also?
No, John wasn’t into Nando’s.
I had to ask! Switching topics a bit, Steven Moffat said at Comic-Con that he’s still writing the Christmas Special with Matt’s departure. I’m not asking for spoilers but do you know anything about it at all?
I know a tiny little bit, but to be honest, I like to wait for script. I like to read it as the page turns.
At what point did you find out Matt would be leaving?
It was always [talked about] from day one. It’s not a decision that he’s made lightly, and it’s something that we’ve been all talking about for a while, so I kind of knew from the start, really, that, that was what was going to happen.
Did you get any reassurance for Clara that if the Doctor leaves, she would stay?
I’m trying to think how it went. I think the idea was, as it always is in the show, we get to know the doctor and a companion for a couple of seasons before they move on.
I definitely don’t want to see her go yet. We’ve only spent half a season with her, and during that time she was mostly a mystery.
That’s what I’m very excited about is that we can actually get the more human side. We couldn’t get to know too much about her because she was a mystery last year. It’s going to be nice just to have her as a human, as a girl. There’s quite a lot to explore still, I think.
When David Tennant left he was on his own, but Matt’s departure seems more similar to when Christopher Eccleston left and Rose got to continue with another Doctor.
It’s only been done once with Rose, I think. At the moment, it feels like a blank canvas. It’s totally in Steven’s mind. That’s what’s kind of exciting, with the nature of the show, we could go anywhere with it. I suppose there is an element of starting again as well which is always so exciting about the show.
I don’t know how they did this with Billie, but have you been involved in the casting process for the Twelfth Doctor in terms of
chemistry tests or things like that?
Yeah, I think it’s a good way to do it. Obviously I had a few auditions with Matt, and I know Matt read with some of the [other] potential companions. I think it’s really good for the writers as well to see us read together.
It’s going to be exciting to have a front row seat to the casting because I’ve been on the other side of it quite a lot on different jobs. I’ve never actually been the girl reading with them, so it’s interesting. I like to see lots of different actors do the same scene, and how different they can make it and what they can do.
Have you started thinking at all about your own ending on the show? The Doctor’s companions are always leaving, and this seems like a very exciting time to be a part of “Doctor Who” because Arthur [Darvill] and Karen [Gillan] and Matt have all gone on to great roles.
Yeah. I saw Arthur on Broadway [in ‘Once’]! His voice is insane. I don’t know. It still feels very much like I’m at the beginning, but what’s quite nice is I’m working on something else [BBC miniseries ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’] at the moment. I sort of have a break and then I have another break, after Matt goes, later in the year because I know I’m not shooting until January. It means I get to explore other projects and come back, and that keeps me very happy.
What’s your role in “Pemberley” like?
I’m playing Lydia Wickham, who is, I apologize already to every single viewer because the director gave me the note, ‘We all should want to slap you in the face,’ so I’m basically as annoying and awful and hysterical a drama queen as possible. I’ve had a great time having a license to just be ridiculous, basically. But everybody else has to sit and witness it, so sorry about that.
I hope it’s okay to ask a “Game of Thrones” question, but what was your reaction to the Red Wedding, since you must have known that was coming?
I think my reaction was just this [jaw drops], for about five minutes. That’s something that I knew was coming, but it was just hand over mouth, shock.
And at Comic-Con you shared a panel with David Bradley [who plays Walder Frey on “Game of Thrones” and stars in the upcoming “Doctor Who” docudrama “An Adventure in Space and Time”], had you ever met him before?
No. He was in [‘Doctor Who’] but that was before I was. He’s a good friend of my boyfriend’s, and also Matt has said some wonderful things about David Bradley. He’s a rock star. He’s cool. You know somebody is a good actor when it makes you feel uncomfortable, afterwards even.
[At this point Matt Smith jumps in briefly to tease Coleman.]
Matt Smith: Is she still going on? I’m really sorry. She’s really boring.
I can’t get her to stop talking!
[Coleman to Smith:] Pipe down, Smith. Go eat some caramel wafers.
[Smith walks away smiling.]
Sorry about him.
It’s funny he did that because he keeps mentioning the great friendships that he’s made on the show, and it must be a little sad to think that he’ll be leaving soon.
I’ll miss him. I will so miss him. We don’t say things like that to each other. But I just can’t imagine it yet. That’s the thing, I don’t need to because we’ve not finished. We have yet to say our goodbyes and yet to even read those goodbyes, so I’ve not moved on. I’ve not dumped him just yet, you know what I mean?
You want to make the most of it.
Oh, massively. [Smith’s first full episode] ‘Eleventh Hour’ is one of my favorite episodes, and it’s one of Matt’s as well. I think he’s been such an incredible, amazing Doctor. [The Christmas special] is going to be such a tribute to Matt, and to the Eleventh Doctor.
We both just want to really go in there and make it up there with ‘Eleventh Hour’ — as strong as possible to give him the best goodbye possible. It’s gonna be exciting. Coming to Comic-Con, and seeing the trailers and things like that, you’re like, ‘Aw, I missed that,’ because we hadn’t done it for a couple of months. It’s like, ‘Let’s get ourselves back to Cardiff, and make some “Doctor Who”!’
The “Doctor Who” 50th Anniversary Special airs worldwide Nov. 23.